AGE OF EMPYREAN (VIII)
A thunderous boom bellowed out throughout the vast sky above Do'r, collapsing it over unto itself and creating thousands of spatial rifts across. Darkness swallowed whatever little light peered from behind the curtains, fires raging out of every inch, compounded with bouts of crashing thunder and macabre figures blasting in and out of existence.
Lino held onto the [Dragon Slayer] with one of his hands, his expression distorted, skin entombed within perpetual shadows, the armor dyed in crimson luster. Hardly a human, he used his free hand to grab onto the rotating, twilight-glowing spike reaching toward his abdomen. It pierced right through, creating a hole in his palm that began bleeding profusely, but he managed to prevent it from reaching his guts.
Four soon after appeared right in front of him, wrapped in gauze from head to toe like a mummified corpse. Gritting his teeth, Lino slapped the spike away and spun in a circle, unfurling his wings that began shooting star-like flutters of light at his surroundings, causing explosions to blast out one after another.
The sword cleaved through the Four or at the very least his afterimage that disintegrated quickly after. The Crown on top of Lino's head suddenly shimmered brightly, a soul-collapsing screech crying out momentarily. Screaming out, he grabbed at the blade shoved through his back and pulled it out, throwing it backward quickly, though still managing to miss.
He bled from every orifice, from every inch of his tattered, beaten and bruised body. Frustration swelled up to his throat, clogging it up till the point no word could escape it. His eyes smoked and screamed, yet to no avail. His Qi roared and bellowed, yet to no avail. It felt as though no matter what he did, he couldn’t penetrate past their defenses. They were toying with him, he knew, as though they were educating a child on how to properly battle. They didn’t try to kill him, didn’t try to finish it all in one blow -- they were trying to break him... mentally and emotionally. And even though he knew it, he was close to his breaking point.
Stopping in place for a moment as an arrow burst through his shoulder, flushing him forward slightly, he took a deep breath and glanced back; Six and Seven stood roughly a hundred meters away from him, attacking in tandem. Both wore masks, though he could easily discern their expressions. Complex... enduring... battling... it mattered little to him. The two Bearers he’d come to kill had long since vanished from here, rescued by them. The entire point of holding back for so long, setting everything up, and even having people he cared for die... turned moot. Who knew how long would he have to wait for the next opportunity... if that opportunity ever even came.
Yet, despite that, he couldn’t go mad, let go of his inhibitions entirely. Even after having donned the Crown, he largely held back from over-exhausting himself. He used it merely to avoid any long-term damage done to his body, and hardly for attacking back. If there was one solace in this situation, it was that he’d found a way out. If he wanted to, he could have broken out an hour ago. Yet, he stayed. He wanted to test not only his limits, but their limits as well. After all, staring with today, they were the faces and names that he’ll one day have to erase. They’ve made their decision when they chose to appear today, as he had made his when he saw them.
But, because they were a complete enigma to the rest of the world, he had to scale back and endure -- he had to personally witness their limits. Six, for instance, didn't have much in terms of fighting prowess, but he was amazing at distraction and support, largely of Seven -- she was a Master Bowman who, despite Lino's desperate attempts, had never missed her shot since the battle's beginning. Compounded with Six's enchantments of her arrows, they hurt -- a lot -- in addition to having a lot of rather eerie and exhausting properties to deal with.
Five, on the other hand, was a full-out brawler, much like Three; unlike the latter, however, whose style largely resembled Lino's, he was like a shadow, repeatedly bouncing left and right, attacking from unexpected angles with abominable speed and precision that Lino simply couldn't react to, not with his body prowess anyway. Three followed Lino's style, and she largely kept him in check -- direct, strength-oriented fighting that left her exposed to attacks often. However, unlike Lino who had no one, Four always circled her to offset those openings, and often punish Lino if he decided to go after them.
Unlike Five, despite repeatedly drifting in the shadow, Four had a rather... disfiguring style of battling. He attacked indirectly, bending rules of reality to wound without the recipient ever realizing they were wounded. As the matter of fact, most of the wounds Lino had on his body most-likely came from him, though he couldn’t remember when or how.
The five had the perfect chemistry, knowing what to do without ever uttering a sound. Furthermore... there was still Two, who hid away, just observing. Lino felt far more danger from her than the rest, and he knew he stood no chance whatsoever, even if he went all out, if she joined. So, he decided not to reveal any one of his cards. Keep them all in check. Hold back. Act the role, play the part, and eventually skittle away once he finds an opportunity to grab Ion’s barely-living body.
"... isn't it enough?" Six suddenly spoke out, his voice full of sympathy and a faint trace of regret. "You've proven your point, Lino. There's no need to push any further than this."
“... I’ve truly considered you my family,” Lino said, his voice dark and tepid, as he turned toward the old man. “Someone I could trust.”
“Your act today... I’ll remember,” he added, his shadow-encased lips curling up into a fanatical grin. “And I’ll repay it a hundredfold.”
“Are you really in a position to threaten him?” Seven chimed in with her usual, indifferent voice. “You should look yourself in the mirror first.”
“No, you’re the ones who should look yourself in the mirror,” Lino replied. “Cowards too terrified to ever take a stand. Keepers of peace? Of balance? My ass. You’re nothing but an entitled group of cunts who believe they are prime and proper enough to play gods with the rest of us. I don’t know why I didn’t want to believe it until today. Heh, I guess I’ll just chalk it up to my naivety. Can’t shake what you’re born with, I guess. But... today’s lesson is entombed inside my heart through the searing pain. And those kinds of lessons... ain’t easily forgotten.”
“Seeing as your tongue still works as always,” Three said. “It seems we haven’t taught you enough yet.”
"You've nothing to teach me," Lino turned slowly toward her, his voice growing duller. "No, I'm wrong. If I'm ever in the mood for learning how to be an utterly despicable, moronic, deplorable cunt, I'll hit you guys up. Until then, you can fuck back off to the hole you crawled out from, and continue sucking on your inflated egos, you fucking megalomaniacs."
“That’s a bit big coming from you, isn’t it?” Four said, his voice even and even slightly limp. “Isn’t your dream to reign over the world?”
“... no,” Lino shook his head, grinning. “My dream is to rid the world of every single one of the fuckers like that. I’d rather the world, and all of us in it, die by the virtue of being the cunts that we are... than watch it grow impotent through the hands of self-important degenerates whose mothers never loved them enough.”
“... a wounded dog barking, and barking, and barking...” the voice hidden in the tepid shadows came out at last as a figure materialized next to Three; she was on the taller end, wearing a mask with ‘2’ carved on her forehead. “Your age has come to an end, child. Accept it gracefully and live out the remainder of your days in peace and quiet. You’ve no place on the grand stage anymore. You’re too emotionally involved to be let loose to lead the world into tomorrow.”
“... aye, I’ve been barking a lot,” Lino cracked an insidious smile, gripping the [Dragon Slayer] tightly. “You’re right. Words mean nothing to the likes of you. So... instead, I’ll show you.” he added lowly, letting go of the boulder in his heart, bit by bit. “Exactly what you’ve awoken today... and why it was a mistake you’ll come to regret, just like she will.”
The Crown upon his head swirled around itself, spitting out jets of frigid air as Lino unfurled his wings completely, four on each side suddenly appearing, totaling in eight. The light behind him blasted off into a pillar which soon condensed in the sky-towering abomination that reeked of death and destruction.
All around him space broke apart of its own volition, as though bending over to his Will by default. The [Dragon Slayer] cried out into the empty nothingness, coral flames jetting out of its sharp blade, consuming it whole. Lino's eyes shimmered as a rapid shockwave broke past them; like an eggshell cracking, a sound echoed out into the world for a moment before the black fuse of it all vanished, replaced by the holy white. Within the ensconced shadows that was his figure, a pair of holy, angular discs appeared, shining as brightly -- if not brighter -- than the sun ever did.
Chaos swept out of him like a hurricane, consuming all other elements within hundreds of miles, devouring them, personifying them, embodying them. Thunderbolts blasted off around him, compounded with the raging inferno of elements that could not be quantified.
“<Sword of Chaos>...” he mumbled lowly, pointing the sword at the six figures standing far away from him. “Ashes to Ashes... Dust to Dust...”
“Behind me, now!!!” Two suddenly cried out as she lifted both her arms in concert, twirling them around in a strange and ethereal pattern that saw the very fabric of time around her slowing down to a crawl.
Just then, the sky above them opened up into a massive gash as Lino dove straight from within it. He was quick... quicker than any logic could measure, than any Law could ever restrict. Breaking the speed of light, they couldn't see him. Couldn't sense his approach. His blade was not even a flash -- all they saw were the events long after they transpired.
Only Two seemed capable of following him, repeatedly moving her arms around seemingly without rhyme or reason.
The world around them found itself broken; time and again, beyond reparation. Twinkles of dust appeared as the everything returned to nothing, to its beginning, primal form. He was everywhere -- in the void, in the reality, beyond it, in-between, in front of them, behind them. His sword was like a maniacal blast of madness that swept past everyone.
Suddenly, he broke past her defenses, bending his arm unnaturally, collapsing his wings into a single formation, blowing through. An arm flew off as Six cried out, pulling back rapidly, barely evading a strike aimed at his throat. His arm turned into ash as soon as it left his shoulder, never to be whole again.
It was the catharsis of Chaos -- the pure, unfiltered embodiment of it... the return to the Origin. It was the last form of the <Sword of Chaos>, and though not the most destructive or even the most difficult to learn... it was the most unforgiving, both to the Empyrean and his foe.
Two stared with bloodshot eyes at the stretched figure bending between the phases of reality as she, too, let go of her inhibitions. Lino suddenly found himself stilled inside the storm of time, hands like claws stretching out toward him. Slithering sideways, he swept his blade upward and deflected them, yet they kept coming, Unfurling his wings full, he pulled himself out of the time dilation, taking to the sky and piercing into the void before doing a turnabout, diving head-on down.
The [Dragon Slayer] creaked and cried and shook, overflowing with Qi it was not designed to handle. Praying inwardly it could withstand it, Lino let go of his fears and of the walls he put up for himself to try... to try and dent them, dent their pride, dent their dignity.
Down below, Two took a deep breath and suddenly mumbled a strange mantra -- space around her wiggled out, turning into a massive, dented cushion that aimed to strangle Lino's momentum. The latter merely screamed atop of his lungs and crashed into it; the ensuing explosion collapsed everything within the formation -- buildings turned to dust, mountains to ash, streets to unrecognizable remnants, the sky to a scar that wouldn't heal for millions of years.
Behind Lino, a blade the size of the sky formed, terribly black and macabre. It followed his path, cutting away at the realms of reality as though they were just ordinary cloth. Within a nanosecond, he came face to face with her -- barely a few inches away. Behind the mask, a pair of eyes stared at his squarely -- calmly. Just then, Lino felt a palm on his chest. At that singular moment, he realized... he was never a threat to her. She didn't seem out of wits on how to handle him. Perfectly calm, easygoing, indifferent. All his efforts, all his attempts... were in vain.
First to go were his ribs, then his sternum which pierced his collapsing heart. Then his lungs. Her palm broke through completely, smashing a massive hole that nearly cleaved him in half. The pain was unimaginable, yet, beyond it, what he felt was perhaps even worse... he felt pathetic. For the first time in many years, he truly felt weak, insignificant like a small ant in the kingdom of lions. He couldn't even touch a hair on her head, let alone engage with her in a proper battle, he realized.
He was blown back like a cannonball, easily shattering the formation and reaching the other side. There, he saw a horrified figure cradle him in her arms, gently disengaging all of his backward momentum. Her crystal-clear eyes grew teary the moment she saw him, her pain quickly eclipsed by unmatched anger as her gaze veered off of him and onto Two. Lino weakly pulled at her sleeve as he managed to somehow straighten himself up. He bled from every inch, his chest yet to begin healing; he truly looked like a dead man having come to life. Crimson sheen covered him, blood trickling down from him like rain. He had nothing left, not in his reserves, not in his Will, not in his instinctual desire to survive. Yet, he still defiantly looked up and squared off against the six of them standing in the distance. A bundle of anger built up inside of him quickly, yet all he could do was let blood spray out of his mouth as though it was a source of a river, just to ease the pain slightly and barely. He couldn't lift an arm, couldn't move a muscle, couldn't do anything but rest on top of a quivering, fragile-looking arm holding him.
He wanted to close his eyes, he wanted to faint, to fall asleep, to blackout until he'd fully recovered... but he wouldn't allow himself. Using the strength he didn't even know he had inside of him, he remained awake. Though hardly alive.